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Celebrating energy at MIT

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We are on the cusp of many, many
practical discoveries that will change our energy systems. MITEI flourished at
MIT I think because of some of the very special characteristics at this
university. It starts with the individual talents of the faculty and students and
the research staff, but beyond that, the tradition of multidisciplinary work,
working across schools and departments, is critical for energy. There’s really
been an evolution in thinking from, “How do we build a better mousetrap?” to “How do we
bring about change in society at a system level?” MITEI is the brainchild of
Susan Hockfield. It was her vision that to address the energy challenge
effectively you needed to bring together all of the talents at MIT. It’s
the economics, it’s the sociology, it’s the science, the engineering, it’s the
architecture, it’s all of the pieces of MIT that had to come together if we were
going to develop really impactful, sustainable energy solutions. The MIT
energy ecosystem is an incredible system and it’s built from the ground up
with people involvement. There are undergraduate and graduate energy clubs
at MIT. We have staff that are incredibly dedicated to energy challenges and
research, and we have, of course, a faculty and administration that are very
dedicated to energy. A few years ago we launched the energy minor course of
study that allows any student at MIT to augment their major course of study with
a focus towards energy and hence be able to hone their appreciation of their
major and think about how does it adapt to solving issues in energy. I was just hooked! I learned about solar technology, wind technology, and different types of
alternative fuels. Technology remains at the heart of the long-term energy solution,
the climate solution, but technology itself is not going to get deployed fast
enough, certainly, without understanding the social context, the policy context. At
MIT there’s really a dynamic interaction between those of us who think about
policy and decision-making and those who think about technology and engineering
innovation. MITEI has really played a tremendous role in extending MIT’s
global reach in energy. You can really see this in the number of projects that
are going on in every corner of the world. Students are able to participate
in international climate and energy policy formulation. You can look at our
papers, our startup companies, our patents, and the policy that has been guided
through members of MITEI and our faculty. A number of faculty across MIT
campus work on solar technologies but thanks to the Energy Initiative, we were able
to actually coalesce those workings and bring in many additional faculty to help
out in the process. How do we take our knowledge, our ability to create
technology here, and direct that at improving people’s lives in the
developing parts of the world? The Tata Center for Technology and Design is our
focal point, which brings together faculty from across MIT, 60 to 65
graduate students at any one time. Initially focused on India and
challenges in energy, food, water, and health, but increasingly with outreach to
Sub-Saharan Africa. To me, energy is about opportunity. It’s about being able
to engage in the 21st century. I’ve had students who’ve been able to attend
global climate conferences nearly every year and in 2015 I joined them at the Paris
Climate Conference, which was a tremendous educational and outreach experience for
all of us. To make a better world, it’s essential that we figure out how to take
what we learn at MIT in energy and get that out into the world. The energy industry
globally is a multi-trillion dollar business and to scale up the
technologies we develop requires partners who have that kind of scale. The
other really important part about working with our industrial partners is
that we really get to understand what what the biggest problems are. We are in
the midst of a reinvention of how we use energy, how we make energy, and we will
develop sustainable energy practices for a larger population, a wealthier
population, and a healthier planet.

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